A little-known fact is that the earliest designs for electronic cigarettes were found in cave paintings in northern Italy. The team behind the discovery, made in the 1980’s, believe that the 3.5 million-year-old drawings show basic designs for rudimentary devices that were used to help early humans in their efforts to quit smoking the stinky cough cough sticks (as they were called back then).
Ok, so the above isn’t exactly factual and by ‘isn’t exactly’ I mean not at all. However, most people will be surprised to learn that the first mention of electronic cigarettes dates back to 1930 and a Mr Joseph Robinson who filed a patent for a basic device in 1927. That was as far as his project got unfortunately and there is no record of anything being created.
It wasn’t until the 1960’s that Herbert A. Gilbert built some prototypes and filed a successful patent for a device that resembles what we think of as electronic cigarettes today. Mr Gilbert is widely credited with creating the very first e-cigarette, but the product never went into production.
It was approximately another 15 years before the next documented attempt was made when in 1979 Phil Ray, an early pioneer of computing, created a device very similar to an ecig with his physician. Their product made it to the shop floor of major American retailers, but sales were poor as, to put in bluntly, the devices weren’t very good. The product failed (quite literally in many cases), and it was another two decades before any more major developments. One thing that Phil Ray and his team did give us was the term ‘Vape’.
During the late 20th and early part of this century, numerous patents were filed by big tobacco brands and independent inventors for devices that resembled e-cigarettes. A company called R J Reynolds Tobacco created a product called the Eclipse which heated tobacco rather than burning it. The device was in production until 2014 when it was rebranded as Revo. Consumer interest in the product has not been positive, and the company announced it was being shelved in 2015. A device closely resembling today’s ecigs was created in 1998 by a major US tobacco company. They approached the FDA in the US for authorisation to go to market but this was denied and the plans abandoned.
A name many vapers will have heard of is Hon Lik (pictured below), a Chinese pharmacist living in Beijing. As the story goes, Hon Lik created the first electronic cigarette in 2003 after his father died of lung cancer. He worked for a company named Golden Dragon Holdings who named the invention ‘Ruyan’, meaning ‘Like Smoke’. The Ruyan was the first e-cigarette to be commercially successful.
By early 2006 the first of these new devices were arriving in Europe, and by late 2006 the USA had also started to see imports coming in from China. The last ten years have seen enormous growth in vaping with an estimated 2.8 million users now in the UK, and some reports suggest up to 20 million in the USA.
To cover the legal issues, health studies for and against vaping and the worldwide views on e-cigarettes will take another (very long!) post. This is something we’ll cover in the future when we have a bit of spare time and a lot of coffee.